Goodwill employee expected sympathy after he saw co-worker crushed. But he was fired

Seven days after he saw his co-worker die, crushed by heavy equipment, Dave Goudie returned to work at the Goodwill Outlet on Franklin Boulevard.

Goudie, a commercial driver, thought he was psychologically ready to resume his $16.50-an-hour job after a week of paid administrative leave. He said he assumed his bosses would continue to offer sympathy and support, as they had in the days following the Sept. 30, 2016, death of Abraham Nicholas Garza on the front loading dock.

Instead, Goudie was ushered into an office and fired by a top executive of Goodwill Industries of Sacramento Valley & Northern Nevada. Goudie said he was issued his final check along with a memo that banned him from Goodwill premises and warned that he could be arrested for trespassing.

Goodwill – one of the most recognized names in philanthropy and community service – has publicly blamed Goudie for Garza’s death, while also raising questions about his character.

Goudie, 56 and still unemployed, is fighting back. He has filed a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, contending he was a victim of retaliation for cooperating with state safety investigators. A Goodwill employee for six months, Goudie repeatedly had warned managers about safety hazards and a lack of training at the Franklin outlet.

The state blames Goodwill for the accident. Six months after Goudie got his walking papers, Cal-OSHA found that Goodwill’s Franklin outlet had deep-seated safety lapses. The state’s workplace safety agency penalized the nonprofit organization in March with a record $106,675 in fines and six violations – four of them deemed “serious,” and one that carries potential criminal liability.

Among other things, investigators found that Goodwill had not provided adequate training in the operation of machinery and had flagrantly failed to develop safety procedures for employees working around the dangerous equipment.

Garza, 26, had been working at the outlet for only about a month when he was killed. The father of a 7-year-old boy, Garza was checking the alignment of a giant empty bin that was poised to roll off a truck and attach to the stationary compactor, according to Cal-OSHA records. While Goudie checked the opposite side, Garza stuck his head between the bin and compactor to apparently get a closer look when the driver suddenly released the bin, crushing the young man’s head.

He died an hour later at UC Davis Medical Center.

Goodwill spokeswoman Karen McClaflin told The Bee in April that the organization conducted its own investigation and determined that the accident was “caused by the negligence of one employee,” referring to Goudie.

Goudie said he still has no idea what “safety procedure” he supposedly violated since there were, he insists, no real safety procedures at all. He says he was fired for being a whistleblower, and that Goodwill is now conducting a “smear campaign” against him.

“If you are like me and most other people, it seems unbelievable that a giant nonprofit like Goodwill would stoop to the level they have in this case,” Goudie wrote on May 18 to the Labor Commissioner’s Office.

In February, Cal-OSHA wrote a letter on Goudie’s behalf to the Employment Development Department, which was processing his unemployment claim. Goodwill had challenged the department’s approval for Goudie to collect unemployment but sent no representative to the appeal hearing, and he was granted benefits.

Cal-OSHA compliance officer Anthony M. Galvez stated in the letter that Goudie “was a key witness and participant during the investigation” and that he had “provided us with a reasonable account of the sequence of events leading up to the accident.”

According to the letter, Cal-OSHA learned that Goudie had been fired shortly after the truck driver met again with the agency to review the accident.

“This is not the first time we have seen an employer fire an employee after having engaged in an accident investigation with us,” Galvez wrote.

Cal-OSHA found that Goudie also had been at risk of death or injury that day, as both he and Garza were standing in the “zone of danger” when the accident took place.

“Interviews with hourly employees responsible for changing out the roll-off bins revealed they did not have a clear understanding of where to position themselves during the roll-off exchanges, hence leading to Mr. Garza exposed within the zone of danger,” Galvez wrote.

Dustin Underwood, a former dispatcher at the Franklin outlet who quit in April, said he considered it “ridiculous” that Goodwill has pinned the blame on Goudie. Underwood, who worked at Goodwill for seven years and voluntarily resigned, described Goudie as an “outspoken driver on safety issues.”

“He was on top of it, and the managers didn’t like him because of that,” he said.

On its website, Goodwill Industries of Sacramento Valley & Northern Nevada states that its mission is “to utilize Goodwill resources to help people with disadvantages achieve self-sufficiency.”

The organization is appealing most of the Cal-OSHA citations, and it has not made top executives available to discuss the accident or the state’s findings. McClaflin told The Bee in April that the nonprofit recognized the “seriousness” of the state’s action but did not believe the citations and penalties were warranted.

On May 16, she declined via email to answer further questions from The Bee, or to make executives available for an interview. “We are very proud of the work we do here; however, it’s not a good time currently to do an interview for another story,” said McClaflin, also Goodwill’s chief development officer.

In that same email, McClaflin suggested that The Bee “might be interested in this background information about Mr. Goudie.” She included three links, one about Goudie’s Christian ministry and online writings and the other two disclosing Goudie’s 2012 arrest in Sacramento for allegedly assaulting his roommate. That charge was dismissed in 2013 on a motion from the prosecutor, citing insufficient evidence.

Goudie told The Bee he is appalled that his former employer had dredged up a five-year-old criminal court case against him that was dismissed during arraignment.

“This is just malicious,” he said. “My credibility, my character, has nothing to do with the objective facts of this case. What they obviously are trying to do is paint me as some kind of kook – as if that changes the objective reality.”

While employed, Goodie had been dogged in his complaints to Goodwill about what he perceived as serious safety issues. Hired as a driver in April 2016, he began flagging concerns, big and small, almost from the beginning, his personal documents show.

A manila folder is still stuffed with yellow duplicate copies of 45 driver inspection reports he submitted between April 19 and September 10, in which he repeatedly noted issues with the fleet: balding tires. A fuel gauge stuck on ¾ of a tank. A broken sun visor. Trouble with a rear door latch. Engine problems.

Five times over a two-week period, he told his superiors that a trailer had severe brake problems. “No Trailer Brakes!” he wrote on May 1, 2016. “Jackknife hazard.”

Goudie’s worries extended beyond the fleet. By summer, he said, he began complaining to his immediate supervisor about the lack of training in operating heavy equipment, and the chronic over-stuffing of bins.

He took pictures, documenting clothing and debris tumbling out the back of containers and littering the path near the compactor. When nothing happened, he said, he put it all in writing in a five-page memo dated Aug. 25, 2016, which he eventually sent to Goodwill headquarters on Folsom Boulevard.

He titled his memo “Employee Workplace Safety Hazard Notification.”

“Based on my personal observations most employees now operating compactors at each plant have not received the required training,” he wrote on the last page. “This exposes Goodwill Industries to fines in the tens of thousands of dollars from Cal-OSHA and should an employee become injured or killed as a result of this lack of training, civil damages could climb into the millions.”

Goodwill’s attempt to publicly discredit Goudie comes as its parent organization, Goodwill Industries International Inc., is openly touting its eagerness to expand the “disadvantaged” population it serves by helping people with criminal histories find work.

“At Goodwill, we believe that everyone deserves a second chance,” says the website of Goodwill Industries International, based in Rockville, MD. “... Visit our page for people with criminal backgrounds to read more about our services and hear the success stories of people we’ve served.”

In an earlier interview, McClaflin said finding work for individuals with criminal histories also is part of the strategy for the Sacramento Goodwill organization.

Garza, the accident victim, was convicted of burglary and attempted burglary in two felony cases filed in Monterey County in 2009, public records show.

No written decision has been issued by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office on Goudie’s retaliation complaint. He filed a lawsuit against Goodwill in January in Sacramento Superior Court, also alleging “unlawful retaliation,” but the case was dismissed in March after he decided to retain a new law firm, he said.

Goodwill has appealed four of the Cal-OSHA citations that make up the bulk of the $100,000-plus penalty. The organization also has challenged the classification of the violations. A status conference on the appeals is set for Monday.

Marjie Lundstrom: 916-321-1055, @MarjieLundstrom